Beyond Human: Rethinking the Technological Extension of the Human Condition

Organised by Humanity+ UK, with support from Virtual Futures, London Futurists, and Zero State.


Saturday, 8th October 2011: 9.30am-5.45pm.
This event will be held in lecture room B34 in the Malet Street building (the main building) of Birkbeck College.  This is located in Torrington Square (which is a pedestrian-only square), London WC1E 7HX.  (Map – PDF)  Torrington Square is about 10 minutes walk from either Russell Square or Goodge St tube stations. The event is free to attend.  There’s no need to register in advance. However, the room may become full, so it would be prudent to arrive on time.


Details subject to minor revisions

09.30: Finding the room, networking, chatting
09.45: Opening remarks
10.00: Beyond human: The science and engineering
12.00: Lunch break
13.00: Beyond human: Implications and controversies
15.00: Extended coffee break
15.45: Beyond human: Getting involved
17.45: Room closes

Speakers and panellists

Note: speakers’ views are their own, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the organisations supporting this event.

Amon Zero

Amon Zero is the founder and leader of Zero State: “a new transhumanist movement, exploring the impact of accelerating technical growth on society, economics, politics, and the human condition through science and art”. Amon is also the founder of Xykogen, a London-based electronic band, which was established in 2004, and a researcher in Cognitive Science at University College London.
At Beyond Human, Amon will be one of two speakers representing Zero State (the other is David Pearce), and will be giving a talk entitled “A New Transhumanism”. He will be speaking about the current state of transhumanism as a movement, the role of Zero State within that movement, and emerging modes of transhumanist activism.  For more details, see Amon’s recent blogpost:
…As the old trope goes, technology is neither intrinsically good nor evil, oppressive or liberating. If you don’t want technology to end up being the tool of Transhumanism’s political and social opponents, you – and yes, I mean you – need to get personally active. Now.
…We are arguably now on the verge of a fourth phase in the development of the Transhumanist movement.
…To put it simply: I believe that the time is right to take our message to a much wider circle of people, and to apply Transhumanist logic to contemporary problems. The future is at the gates, and it is time for us to do something about it.

Anders Sandberg

Anders Sandberg is a James Martin research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. As a part of the Oxford Martin School he is involved in interdisciplinary research on cognitive enhancement, neurotechnology, global catastrophic risks, emerging technologies and applied rationality. He has been writing about and debating transhumanism, future studies, neuroethics and related questions for a long time. He is also an associate of the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics and the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, as well as co-founder of the Swedish think tank Eudoxa.

At Beyond Human, Anders will talk on “Boosting Brains 2011: how far have we come?” This presentation will assess smart drugs and other biomedical techniques, as well as some broader methods of brain enhancement, such as collective cognition.

Ayesha Khanna

Ayesha Khanna is Founder and Director of the Hybrid Reality Institute, a research and advisory think tank focused on the intersection of technology trends, data intelligence and geopolitics. A technology and innovation strategy expert, Ayesha has over ten years of experience advising clients on scenario analysis, product development, digital branding and customer experience. Her clients have included Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, UBS, American International Group, and Deutsche Bank. Ayesha is frequently interviewed in the media and was recently featured by the New York Times. She is a regular speaker at industry, marketing, and academic conferences related to emerging technology trends and intelligent cities.
Ayesha is the author of Straight Through Processing (Reed Elsevier, 2007), and was series editor of The Complete Technology Guides published by Reed Elsevier. She has written for publications such as BusinessWeek, TIME, Newsweek, Forbes, Strategy+Business, and Foreign Policy. She also blogs on human technology co-evolution at Big Think. In Aug 2011, she co-authored the lead essay on how technology comes to life for the Foreign Policy magazine issue titled “The Future is Now”.

Ayesha is on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Lifeboat Foundation, a Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and co-curator of TEDxGotham. In 2010, she co-chaired the Innovation Advisory Board for the New York City congressional campaign of Reshma Saujani.  She has a BA (honors) in Economics from Harvard University, an MS in Operations Research from Columbia University and is writing her PhD in Information Systems and Innovation at the London School of Economics.
At Beyond Human, Ayesha will talk about “Designing Cities of the Future”.

Brian Degger

Brian Degger is a scientist, part time cryptozoologist,  interdisciplinary researcher, and artist, based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK with a doctorate in biotechnology from Queensland University of Technology.  He has contributed to research on a broad range of topics including fish growth factors, developmentally regulated proteins, freshwater fish population studies, artists use of cutting edge technology and locative technologies.

In interdisciplinary contexts in the arts, Brian has worked with Blast Theory(UK) on developing and performing I Like Frank in Adelaide,(Fringe Festival 2004). He assisted Ken Rinaldo with installing AutoTelematic Spiderbots as part of AVFest06Newcastle upon Tyne and recently been in the team that developed infected textiles with lead artist Anna Dumitriu as part of the LabLife project (lighthouse arts, 2011).  His ongoing research is on understanding the relationship between creators (artists and scientists) and their biofacts/model organism systems.

At Beyond Human, Brian will talk about “Getting to know your inner microbes”.

David Pearce

David Pearce is an independent researcher and vegan animal activist based in Brighton UK.  In 1995, he wrote an online manifesto, The Hedonistic Imperative, advocating the use of biotechnology to abolish suffering throughout the living world. He predicts that our descendants will be animated by gradients of cerebral bliss orders of magnitude richer than anything accessible today.  He has also written on the philosophy of mind and perception; utilitarian ethics; psychopharmacology; life extension; cognitive enhancement technologies; mood enrichment; genetic recalibration of the hedonic treadmill; ecosystem redesign; reprogramming predators; and – more speculatively – on a posthuman future based on “paradise engineering”.  In 1998, in collaboration with Nick Bostrom, David Pearce set up the World Transhumanist Association – subsequently rebranded as Humanity+.

At Beyond Human, David will speak on “The Anti-Speciesist Revolution”:
“Nothing more strongly arouses our disgust than cannibalism, yet we make the same impression on Buddhists and vegetarians, for we feed on babies, though not our own” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Each year humanity kills over 50 billion sentient beings. We confine and kill our animal cousins in ways that would earn the abuser a life sentence in prison if our victims were human. This talk will explore how Humanity+ can overcome the moral and cognitive limitations that have shaped our traditional relationship with members of other races and species. Can transhumanists consistently support the commitment in the Transhumanist Declaration to the well-being of all sentience without adopting a cruelty-free vegan lifestyle? How close are technologies that will allow us to abolish the biology of experience below hedonic zero throughout the living world? What kind of “sentience explosion” do we want to create in our forward light-cone?

David Wood

David Wood has spent 23 years designing, developing, and avidly using embedded software for mobile devices – helping to create PDAs at Psion and then smartphones at Symbian.  He is presently working on a major project for Accenture Mobility Services.  He has been Meetings Secretary of Humanity+ UK since March 2008.  He has a BA in Mathematics from Cambridge University and an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Westminster.  In September 2009 he was included in T3 magazine’s list of “100 most influential people in technology”.  In 2010 he featured in the world’s first Augmented Reality CV.
David’s talk at Beyond Human, “From superphones to superhumans?” will set the scene for the event:
The dramatic evolution of mobile technology from 2000-2010 supported the vision of “smartphones for all” – increasingly ubiquitous mobile handsets, delivering more and more functionality. These devices are now so powerful that they have been given a new name: “superphones”.
The period 2011-2015 will follow the additional vision of “smartphone technology everywhere” – increasingly inexpensive, miniature, and reliable technology components, matured in the heat of the smartphone revolution, can now be recombined in numerous new ways inside different product form factors – such as tablet computers, automobile dashboards, mobile medical equipment, wearable computers, and smart connected robots. Since these devices have smartphone technology submerged inside them, they have been called “subphones”.
With a slightly longer timescale in mind, the period 2011-2030 could be described as “from superphones to superhumans”. The same broad accelerating technology improvements which are resulting in superphones and subphones have the potential to provide humans with greater strength, speed, intelligence, and longevity.  The movement that champions this development is called “Humanity+”.  But what can the recent history of  technology accelerators and decelerators lead us to expect about future progress?  And aren’t there profound dangers of enabling powerful superhumans without first ensuring greater kindness, insight, wisdom, and cooperation?

Kerstin Dautenhahn

Kerstin Dautenhahn is Professor of Artificial Intelligence, Adaptive Systems Research Group, School of Computer Science, The University of Hertfordshire.  Her main areas of research are Human-Robot Interaction, Social Robotics, Socially Intelligent Agents, and Artificial Life.  With respect to robot-human interaction she thinks in terms of building robots as “friendly” partners, showing interesting behaviours and/or dynamic types of movement; robots as toys to entertain people and help children with special needs to relate to the environment (see project AURORA), or service robots as helpful assistants and companions in home scenarios.  As one of many examples of media interest in her work, the Guardian has published an article on “At home with the android family”, including a video featuring the robot KASPAR.
At Beyond Human, Kerstin will talk on the subject “Robots as helpful companions”.

Luke Robert Mason

Luke Robert Mason is a researcher, filmmaker and digital media artist. Having recently graduated from the University of Warwick, he will be joining Philter Phactory early next month as their Research Director, helping to develop their post-user software Weavrs.com.

His work deals with issues of cyberculture, the post-user web and infomorphology. Mason was also responsible for the revival of the cult cyber-conference conference Virtual Futures which aimed to reconnect the University of Warwick with one of the most important intellectual and cultural developments of our times – the technological extension of the human condition.
More details can be found here at the website Virtual Futures on the Warwick Knowledge Centre.
At Beyond Human, Mason will speak about “The post-user net: infomorphology and being human”.

Philip Moriarty

Philip Moriarty is a Professor of Physics and an Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Fellow in the School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Nottingham. His research interests span a number of topical themes in nanometre scale science with a particular recent focus on single atom/molecule manipulation. He is currently Chair of the Institute of Physics Nanoscale Physics and Technology Group committee, a member of the Science Board of the Institute of Physics, and was a member of the EPSRC Strategic Advisory Team for Physics from 2005 – 2006.

Moriarty has a keen interest in public engagement/outreach activities and science funding policy and, in addition to being involved in a number of research council-funded projects in these areas, has interacted with national and international media (including The Independent, The Guardian, Times Higher Education, BBC Radio 4 and Die Zeit) on these issues. He is also a regular contributor to Nottingham’s Sixty Symbols YouTube project which has, as of August 2011, attracted a total of 6.2 million views (across ~150 videos).
At Beyond Human Moriarty will discuss the viability of a molecular manufacturing capability based on nanoassemblers and nanofactories – the essence of what is known as Drexlerian nanotechnology. His presentation “From single atom manipulation to nanofactories: An impossible or an improbable dream?” will focus on the fundamental science and technical challenges underpinning the manipulation of matter at the atomic and sub-atomic levels.

Sarah Marr

Sarah Marr is a co-founder and Executive Vice-President of SENS Foundation, dividing the majority of her time between London and California. She is also on the Advisory Board of the Lifeboat Foundation.
Sarah has a Bachelor’s Degree in Law, from the University of Oxford, and another in Theoretical Physics, from Imperial College London, where she also built the prototype web portal for the European grid computing network of the Large Hadron Collider.

Her postgraduate studies include a Master’s Degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Manchester, specializing in the nature of cultural misappropriation in Western subcultures and concepts of the body, the self and ‘belonging’. She has a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Imperial College London, covering the quantum and relativistic properties of black holes in discrete spacetimes.

Her previous position was as the Head of Operations of the UK political think-tank, Demos, where she also co-authored a global survey of public service design practices.

In the 1990s she spent several years as a business and IT consultant with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), working on a variety of projects from systems analysis to the streamlining of European, Middle Eastern and Asian operations.

As well as writing about, and presenting, the Foundation’s work, she has previously been awarded a place on the Science Writing Project, run by The Arvon Foundation and the 1851 Commission, popularizing science concepts through their appearance in Shakespeare’s works. She has written for the Times Higher Education Supplement, and worked with artists from London’s Royal College of Art, providing publicity copy and reviews.

She is a keen photographer, with her last show, Pause, showing in London, in October, 2009.
At Beyond Human, Sarah will talk about “SENS Foundation and the Future of Rejuvenation Biotechnology”:
SENS Foundation works to develop, promote and ensure widespread access to rejuvenation biotechnologies which comprehensively address the disabilities and diseases of aging.
The Foundation catalyses progress toward a comprehensive panel of rejuvenation biotechnologies through its growing global networks and collaborations, and through key research projects, executed in its own Research Center and numerous affiliated universities, research organizations and other centers of excellence.

Stefano Vaj

Stefano Vaj is the secretary of the Associazione Italiana Transumanisti, and one of the organisers of Transvision 2010. He served as a professor in New Technologies Law at the University of Padua, is a journalist, a writer and a practising lawyer.

A member of the editorial board of Divenire: Rassegna di Studi Interdisciplinari sulla Tecnica e il postumano, Stefano Vaj is the author of, inter alia, of Biopolitica: Il nuovo paradigma (http://www.biopolitica.it). An English translation of another book (Dove va la biopolitica?) will shortly become available.

Stefano Vaj will talk on “The End of Eschatological Narratives: From Posthumanism to a Posthuman Change, or How to Make A Singularity Happen”.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller is the Auguste Comte Professor in Social Epistemology, the Department of Sociology, the University of Warwick.  He graduated from Columbia University in History & Sociology before gaining an M.Phil. from Cambridge and PhD from Pittsburgh, both in the History and Philosophy of Science.  His major areas of research are the future of the University and critical intellectuals, science and technology studies, the interdisciplinary challenges in the natural and social sciences, and the political and epistemological consequences of the new biology.

Steve’s major publications are: Social Epistemology (1988), Philosophy of Science and its Discontents (2nd edn.)(1993), The Governance of Science: Ideology and the Future of the Open Society (2000), Thomas Kuhn: A Philosophical History of Our Times (2000), Knowledge Management Foundations (2002), Philosophy, Rhetoric and the End of Knowledge (2nd edn) (2003), Kuhn vs Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science (2003), New Frontiers in Science and Technology Studies (2007), and Science: The Art of Living (2010).

Steve’s talk at Beyond Human will highlight and extend some themes from his forthcoming book “Humanity 2.0: What it Means to be Human Past, Present and Future“:
Social thinkers in all fields are faced with one unavoidable question: what does it mean to be ‘human’ in the 21st century? As definitions between what is ‘animal’ and what is ‘human’ break down, and as emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and nano- and bio- technologies develop, accepted notions of humanity are rapidly evolving.
Humanity 2.0 is an ambitious and groundbreaking book, offering a sweeping overview of key historical, philosophical and theological moments that have shaped our understandings of humanity.  Tackling head on the twin taboos that have always hovered over the scientific study of humanity – race and religion – Steve Fuller argues thar far from disappearing, they are being reinvented.
Fuller argues that these new developments will force us to decide which features of our current way of life – not least our bodies – are truly needed to remain human, and concludes with a consideration of these changes for ethical and social values more broadly.

Steve Lowe

Steve Lowe has been an academic policy analyst, IT manager, strategy consultant and corporate financier.  He is currently developing ThinkOfTheFuture.com to deliver various projects associated with innovation and society as well as marketing a consortium of established small services businesses to major organisations.  He is the organizer for the London Futurists Meetup.  His website notes:
Few major corporations of a century ago survive; most failed to adequately prepare for their unfolding futures.  Successful organisations adapt dynamically to what they see ahead.  With masses of external and internal data to digest, key tasks are filtering, identifying and responding to ‘actionable information.  The future is steeped in opportunity.  A better future begins with better future thinking.
At Beyond Human, Steve will talk about “The Billion Year Project”:
The billion year project is a proposed crowd sourcing exercise seeking enthusiastic and knowledgeable supporters to take it forward. At its heart is a novel futures-mapping framework; a highly improbable story and an explanation of how these, plus ultimately input from ‘the crowd’ which can then be applied. The proposed benefits include conflict resolution and future-proofing businesses, through informing public policies, to helping to develop tomorrow’s multiplayer games and virtual worlds.

Food, drink, and refreshments

Due to space constraints at the venue, the event organisers are not able to provide food, drink, or refreshments.  There are a couple of nearby locations inside Birkbeck College (a Fairtrade Costa Coffee in the reception area, and a small kiosk opposite room B34) where some food and drink can be purchased, but these will not be able to cope with 150+ event attendees all arriving at the same time.
However, there are a number of other coffee shops, pubs, and restaurants within 5 minutes walk, such as on Torrington Place.  Simple lunch will also be on sale in the Lunchbox cafeteria in the ULU (University of London Union) building at the end of Malet Street (opposite Waterstone’s, where there’s another Costa Coffee).  Attendees may also wish to bring some refreshments with them.